The warning — “snow and ice” — was woefully inadequate for the reality of the storm that hit. My wife and I were at home when a blizzard knocked out power across a wide swath of Southwest Virginia in 1998, snapping limbs off evergreens and oaks and ripping out power lines.

Snowed in with roads impassable for nearly four days, we hunkered down in our rural home. We had a freezer full of food, but with our electric well system down, we had no running water. My outdoor woodpile for the wood-burning stove was encased in snow and ice. By day four we had burned through all the candles and were running low on fresh batteries for the lantern and flashlight.

On day five, the roads were finally clear, so we checked into a hotel and stayed until power was restored to our neighborhood two days later.

We were lucky. When the storm hit, we had food and a place to stay and somewhere to escape to when living without power and running water became untenable. What if we had had nowhere to go? Here are tips for blizzard preparation, courtesy of the Red Cross,, and emergency medical technicians.

Related: 7 Ways to Prep for Winter Now

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Put together a storm survival kit before the onset of winter. Don't wait until a few hours before it starts snowing. You’ll typically get an advance warning of 12 hours or more before the storm hits. If an alert comes, put your survival kit and warm clothes where you can get to them quickly.

Supplies to stock up on

  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Water and non-perishable food, especially energy bars, dried fruit and nuts (at least a 3-day supply)
  • A 7-day supply of medication
  • A stash of baby formula, diapers and pet food
  • A cell phone and batteries
  • Personal hygiene supplies
  • Filled water containers
  • First-aid supplies
  • Flashlights and a portable storm radio with extra batteries
  • A basic tool kit
  • Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors (You should have these up all year, but they’re especially important during a blizzard when you may be burning wood.)
  • Insulation for your water pipes such as a "pipe sleeve" or UL-listed "heat tape," "heat cable" or similar materials on exposed water pipes to keep them from freezing (Bring your outdoor hose into the house and leave the outside valve open so any water left there can expand without breaking a pipe.)

Related: Make Your House Warmer — and Safer — This Winter

When the blizzard hits

  • Stay inside and off the roads until emergency crews have a chance to clear them.
  • Shut the doors to unused rooms to conserve heat.
  • Draw the blinds or curtains over windows to add insulation and save heat.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing in layers to create air pockets that hold in body warmth and ward off the cold.
  • Let cold water drip from faucets served by outdoor pipes; this will help keep pipes from freezing.
  • Drink enough water to stay hydrated. If you have well water and the power is out, the pump won’t work, so fill your bathtub with water beforehand. Melt snow in saucepans for drinking water. “Not staying hydrated is a big one in the winter,” says Dudik. “In the winter people don’t realize how much water they’re actually losing. It affects everything from your thinking to circulation in your extremities.”

"There’s no excuse for being unprepared for winter weather," especially if you live in a region where three feet of snow could fall in 24 hours, according to Dudik, who adds it's important to stock your car as well. “You should keep blankets and a shovel in your car. Jumper cables and non-perishable food. Some bottled water. And don’t go out without the proper clothing. If you have that stuff you should be fine.”

If I heard another blizzard warning, I would do lots of things differently: Pack an emergency kit. Fill the bathtubs with water before the power went out and the well pump went silent. Stock up on high-energy, protein-rich foods. And I would definitely anchor the tarp over the woodpile. That way I wouldn’t troop outside to find the precious cordwood I was planning to use for heating and cooking frozen in an impenetrable block of ice.

Related: Prepare Your House for Winter Storms

Steve Evans, MA, is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience in daily news, investigative, health and business journalism. Among other jobs, he has served as managing editor of the Central Virginia Newspaper Group, as a senior writer for SNL Financial and as a staff writer for The Progress Index and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.